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Innovation and HIS

What if technology alone was not the answer?

In this op-ed, Lifen's R&D experts expand into a pressing healthcare paradox: documents as the prevailing irreducible knowledge unit.


Health systems everywhere rely on digital transformation to address the onslaught of disruptions they face. At the heart of it all lies a paradox: the more emphasis healthcare places on technology, the greater our reliance on the human capabilities required to shape and align it.

Just looking around us today, it is clear that Europe develops a plethora of brilliant high-tech-based solutions every year. And granted, digital health is changing the healthcare ecosystem at all levels - this is far from being breaking news!

Digital health is something to be excited about, for sure. The healthcare sector faces many challenges. Medical science is becoming increasingly complex. The decision-making process is layered with more and more shades of uncertainty as information proliferates. Healthcare facilities and practitioners do not have the means to accommodate such high demand - be it the number of people seeking care or the need to process such a variety and quantity of information.

We might have the tech, but what is tech worth if it generates more data than the human brain can process? Every new device, app, wearable or gadget generates exabytes of information, that will be stored in a silo - and by silo, we don’t mean a fortress, mind you. Nothing is locked away, just stored on a digital shelf somewhere, slightly out of reach, arranged in a fashion that is not standardised, gatekept by compliance bouncers that while not hostile, will do nothing to help you find it.

Modern healthcare silos are, surprisingly, made of documents. Documents of all types, originating from all sources, some containing vital information, others tangential. Text files, images, tables, good old PDFs... the format may differ, yet all of them have one thing in common - they’re individual entities. And as individual entities, they need to be accessed... individually.

Consider a hospital where, in the operating theatre, someone is doing augmented reality robotic-assisted surgery. Cutting-edge 21st-century tech at its best. And yet, right next door, someone is printing out the surgery report, stapling it to a pre-surgery X-ray, and then loading the lot into a fax machine. Such is the paradox of our sector.

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Unstructured data in the form of documents as individual entities, pullulating digital formats and non-standardised systems of record might not hamper digital innovation. Still, they do sure dissuade healthcare professionals and facilities from adopting them. From their point of view - and rightfully so - all that tech only amounts to information being harder to find, and requiring extra energy to make sense of.

So yes, ultimately, the digital revolution can throw spanners in its own works.

Digital health applications usually lack the funds, expertise and bandwidth to address interoperability concerns properly. Hospitals still deploy primarily on-premise - they have software installed by vendors that likely did not even know (or care) to make it interoperable... and certainly not with the cloud. And there is not an IT department, not in up-and-coming digital health companies, not in hospitals, not in insurance companies, that is not capacity-constrained.

So when we get excited about all this new shiny technology that sits in the cloud, the reality is that when we want to deploy this into the guts of the healthcare system, things can be very clunky. Many treat these deployments as point-to-point projects. But the truth is that, with care pathways becoming more and more complex and hybrid, healthcare systems, now more than ever, need to provide access to superior quality care. And not only that. They need to be financially sustainable, and for that, we need speed and scale.

And speed and scale are things you can only get when you have a platform that streamlines things and hides the complexity of all the interoperability work that has to happen behind the scenes. So essentially, innovators need more than just great tech. They need interoperability expertise, either in-house or as a service, that allows for the deployment of connectors into native data systems such as EHRs (among others) so that they can talk to facility legacy systems and vice-versa. They need more than just sectorial expertise, they need to build an entire digital ecosystem. They need to figure out how to make data exploitable at a scale, and how to make it flow.

Will digital health survive without such expertise? Well, yes. The future is already here; it is just unevenly distributed. Things will work, but it will be a messy bowl of spaghetti. Whereas with interoperable technology, deploying cloud-based applications becomes scalable, faster, cheaper, and more secure. It becomes accessible. Inviting. User-friendly. And infinitely more prone to perennial adoption.


Founded in 2015, Lifen is an expert interoperability and Artificial Intelligence partner that helps healthcare facilities embrace the full benefits of the digital health revolution.

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